Yesterday we had the latest installment of the Storm Point campaign. I’ve been working on fitting more into each session of play with this game, because I was unsatisfied with the way it was turning into the fight-a-week club, too similar to the D&D Encounters format. There have been a few specific challenges to that strategy, though:
- Fights have been too tough. This is sort of a feedback loop: I want a challenge for the characters, so I build a tough encounter, but that means that we only get through one encounter in a session, so I want to make sure that encounter is memorable and challenging, so I build a tough encounter…
- The actual setting of the adventure is not optimal for highlighting things like NPC interaction and roleplaying encounters. They’re in a ruined dwarven city, looking to repatriate the bones of one of the character’s ancestors, so the place is pretty empty, except for the foul creatures that drove the dwarves out in the first place.
- Focus is tough in this group. In previous posts, it may have seemed like I was bemoaning this fact and blaming the players, but that’s not the true story. The real story is that we have all been friends for years, but as time has gone on, we see each other less and less outside of the game. So a large part of the enjoyment that we all have in the game is the socializing, and I’m as guilty of it as anyone else. And this is not necessarily a bad thing.
This session, I worked to address the first two points, and wound up doing some work on the third one, as well.
After the interesting combat last session on the crumbling stairs over the lava, the party had found its way down to two different ways into the dwarf city: worked mines and natural caverns. I explained that both would probably lead to the city, but that the mines might be easier to navigate, though more heavily patrolled. The caverns might have less-organized monsters, but would be tougher to find their way through. The group chose the mines.
I built almost identical skill challenges for each path, shifting the DCs as I felt appropriate. The idea was that they needed 12 successes to get through the mines before 3 failures. Every time they made four successes without a failure, they found some raw amethyst in the mine, giving them some interest in the actual skill challenge. Every time they rolled a failure, they would run into a patrol of bad guys. If they had any successes with the Stealth skill, they would have a chance to evade or surprise the patrol; otherwise, they’d have to fight. Twelve successes would see them into the upper city of Silverfalls, while three failures would mean that they had wandered into the caverns and had to get through that skill challenge next.
They made it through the skill challenge with two failures, giving them two combats, and letting them find one cache of amethysts. I threw in an extra cache of amethysts for completing the skill challenge, and because I had pushed the players pretty hard on the final combat.
See, the combats were less of a challenge than I usually make. The group is 8th level – 9th level, after this session – and the first combat was a level 7 encounter, while the second one was level 8. The third, if they had triggered it, was level 10. Usually, I make the encounters a couple of levels higher than the party to make sure it’s a good challenge. The party can handle it, but it means we get through one encounter per session, and the players usually want to take an extended rest after about two encounters, meaning they’re not getting any of the rewards for passing milestones.
We made it through both combats and completed the skill challenge this session, and I was very pleased. We started the last combat about an hour before the time we normally look at stopping for the evening, so I told the group that I was going to be a bit of a dick about running this combat to keep things moving, and that they should be thinking about what their characters are going to be doing before their turn comes up, and that that I was going to limit their waffling time.
In truth, I had to make some noises about hurrying up during the first couple of players’ turns, and they decided I was serious. We got through that combat in about an hour, rather than the two I was fearing it would take. These guys can focus when they want to.
So, we got them to the upper city of Silverfalls. Along the way, they fought drow and troglodytes – and a few demons – and found on the corpses little chits of stone carved with Deep Speech symbols that lead the party to believe that there are aberrations pulling the strings.
I count this session as a huge success for the game, based on the following facts:
- Effectively three encounters completed.
- Got through the tougher combat in about an hour.
- Interest from the players in the non-combat stuff, including some discussion of the history of Silverfalls.
- Laid some groundwork for possible roleplaying encounters with some of the monsters.
- Less-challenging opponents allowed the characters to shine, doing some very cool stuff, including a nice teleport bait-and-switch by the fighter and the swordmage, and a very wuxia-style attack by the monk that wound up putting down the boss monster in the first round (assist by the ranger softening the target with a couple arrows).
So, thanks and congratulations to my players. I think this kind of adventure structure is going to make our games more fun.
Oh, and yes. I wasn’t just taunting you with the beholder mini. Fair warning to Milo “GM Weaksauce” Tarn.